AIR Review: Matt Damon and Viola Davis shoot a slam dunk in Ben Affleck’s 3-point deserving directorial
Cast: Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Marlon Wayans, Chris Messina
Director: Ben Affleck
OTT: Prime Video
Rating: 4 Moons
“A shoe is always just a shoe, until someone steps into it. Then it has meaning. The rest of us just want a chance to touch that greatness. We need you in these shoes not so that you have meaning in your life, but so that we have meaning in ours,” says Matt Damon in the film AIR as a sales pitch to probably the greatest athlete in sports history, Michael Jordan. AIR is a sports drama but still it isn’t because if you expect adrenaline pumping and hands raging sporting matches where the underdog team triumphs over the bullies and the proven champions, then you’d be highly mistaken. It is the story of how Nike landed Michael Jordan, ahead of their rival sneaker brands Adidas and Converse back in 1984 when the now NBA legend was just a rookie and not a household name. Yet the film has that rare quality of keeping you glued to the screens with impeccable acting, crisp story and impressive direction.
AIR stars Matt Damon in the lead as Nike talent scout Sonny Vaccaro who was instrumental in getting Jordan on board the brand. Somewhere around the 90-minute mark he delivers the above dialogue to his prospective client but invariably summarizes the greatness that Jordan achieved through his career. He did not have a legacy to live up to and neither was compared to someone great or had anyone’s shoes to fill in but he created his own legacy and became the world’s greatest athlete; with Nike he made his own ‘Shoe’ that every person on the planet wanted to own so that he or she can feel the pride and be a small part of Jordan’s greatness.
Directed by Ben Affleck from a screenplay written by Alex Convery, AIR shows us Nike of 1985 as a brand known only for manufacturing jogging shoes while its competitors Adidas and Converse had athletes wearing their shoes, including Jordan himself. The film shows us the crackpot idea of Basketball aficionado, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) who cracks a deal with Jordan and his mom, Deloris Jordan (played by Viola Davis) for Nike keeping the company’s entire fortune and employees’ future at stake. Just like his real-life character, Damon carries the entire film on his shoulder. He is intense, funny, smart, shrewd, intuitive, forceful, and inspiring and a go-getter all at once. There is not a single scene without him in the film and yet he never makes it dull. The film belongs to him and there is no contention on this. It is probably his finest film and something that he will be immensely proud of.
Viola Davis as Jordan’s mom Deloris packs another punch. The actress commands scenes like no other and ensures you can’t take your eyes off her every time she delivers a dialogue. The conversation she has with Vaccaro stating that her son will indeed sign with Nike but wants a stake in shoe sales will give you goosebumps. Every time she comes on screen, you know she means pure business and we get to see the triumph of a Black woman in getting a corporate house to agree to her terms and conditions and not the other way around. Together with Damon, they create magic on screen which makes AIR a must watch. Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Marlon Wayans and Jason Bateman give credible performances as the supporting cast.
There is never a dull moment in this sports drama despite not having any matches. It is also not exactly a biographical sports drama, the only time we see a basketball match was when Sonny replayed one of the videos of Jordan, yet it is riveting, engaging and inspiring. Another key point about the film is that we never get to see Jordan on screen but only his back. The reason for this was given by Affleck before the film’s release as he said, “I thought he was too majestic for anyone to imitate. Jordan is too big.” This is indeed the gospel truth as Jordan has become too big and his sneaker sales are still going strong, even though he laced up a Nike shoe in an exhibition match 20 years ago.
AIR showcases how Jordan became an early pioneer of bringing the capitalist and corporate America to its knees and empowered the African-American athlete community. His signature sneaker deal paved the way for several other basketball stars to strike similar endorsements.
Affleck not only impresses with his direction in the film but also with his cameo as Nike CEO, Phil Knight. He brings to life the quirky traits of the company boss to perfection. The film has some fine scenes like the shouting match between David Falk (played by Chris Messina), Jordan’s agent and Vaccaro over the phone as well as the revelation on who came up with the name ‘AIR Jordan’. Affleck’s film is that rare entity in today’s entertainment where there are no VFX, no violence, power struggles, murders, whodunits or mafiaso but is pure and crisp storytelling that good films are made of, which eventually stands the test of time. The film also showcases the pure marketing genius of Nike in recruiting a rookie like Jordan, because although the shoe is based on him, once worn by someone else, it becomes their own.
AIR is a must watch not only for sports aficionado, movie buffs but also as a case study for marketing students. Kudos to the team for making such an enjoyable film!
PeepingMoon.com gives AIR, 4 Moons.